When I was a freshman in college, I read excerpts from a book in English 101 titled Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. While it contains great advice, I admit that I’ve struggled to follow it over the years. As I plunge deeper into the realm of editing, I try more diligently to embody Lamott’s words. Even as I composed the rough draft of this blog post, speaking into my phone’s “voice-to-text,” I exercised a great deal of self-restraint in pausing minimally. Allow me to explain myself.
This chapter addresses the subject of rough drafts (emphasis on rough) and endorses the notion that a shitty first draft can actually lead to brilliant clarity in proceeding drafts. I chuckled aloud when I read that the author sometimes feared dying while her first drafts remained unedited on her computer; if people actually saw those drafts–the shitty ones from Lamott or me or their favorite bloggers or authors–they might question the writer’s skills and wonder why a great writer produces average writing. Lamott discourages editing along the way with first drafts. Rather, a writer should keep going at all costs, reserving the clean-up for later. As a perfectionist in writing, I have to force myself to emulate this advice; every time a thought flows from my brain to my fingers to the computer, my mind automatically starts formulating different, better ways to phrase the thought. Consequently, I find myself typing, erasing, typing, erasing, typing, and erasing to get a couple sentences written.
Attempting to write a perfect rough draft is a waste of time. Rattling words off without constraining the flow of my thoughts or hampering the brainstorming process, knowing everything can be made coherent in the future, is less tedious and time-consuming than writing and rewriting sentences multiple times. Because most people neither think of editing as vital to the writing process nor thoroughly review their own work, many view writing as a one-pass-deal and perceive that excellence or mediocrity is naturally dictated. While a natural inclination certainly helps, excellence in writing is a skill set to be developed.
Mediocre writers can elevate their works through editing, and excellent writers can overwork themselves by expecting perfection in a rough draft. I myself have wasted much brainpower trying to write rough drafts flawlessly. However, I’ve realized that embracing the concept behind bad first drafts requires full trust in the editing process. The somewhat intimate term “trust” may seem odd in the context of these scholarly pursuits, but I use this word because I perhaps feel inadequate when I write badly. In a sense, it’s like delayed gratification–an excellent blog post or essay or sermon or article or story awaits me if I am patient enough to deal with my shitty rough draft. Even good writers can produce bad first drafts because our thoughts simply aren’t packaged perfectly when our brain conceives them. We have to have ideas before we can perfect them. If you give yourself the leeway for creative chaos to flourish in your first draft, that draft will function as a springboard into the next draft.
In the next post, I’m going to start a series of tutorials/lessons about editing, starting with the errors I see most. I hope my tutorials and lessons will give you more confidence in your editing skills, and if you’re smart, you’ll try the shitty first drafts method of writing. Also, as always, you can consult me personally for specific editing projects; click About to learn more. Under this post, I’m doing the unthinkable and sharing my shitty rough draft for this blog entry. Comparing the final version with the first displays how editing can transform a text from average to excellent.
When I was a freshman in college, I read a book in my first English course titled rough first drafts. Well it contained great advice, I’ll admit that I haven’t followed it over the years. However, the further I get into the realm of editing, the more I try to embody the advice that presents. Even now, as I speak into the microphone on my phone, I’m exercising a great deal of self-restraint. Allow me to explain myself.
The book contains advice regarding rough drafts and endorses allowing those drafts to be as rough as possible. I chuckled out loud when I read in the first chapter that the author sometimes feared dying while their rough first drafts remained unedited on their computer. If people actually saw those drafts, they might question how good the writer was. The author recommended not editing along the way with first drafts. Rather, a writer should keep going at all costs, even if they feel like what they’re writing sounds bad or needs work. As of perfectionist in a writing, I struggle to emulate this advice; every time I thought flows from my brain it to my fingers too my mouth or the computer coma I begin to reverse that thought immediately and think of better ways to phrase it. The problem with trying to write perfectly the first time is that a lot of time is wasted realistically. Forcing myself to Rattle off sentences and flow with my thoughts, knowing it sounds terrible but could be fixed later, takes the same amount of time as writing and rewriting a sentence three or four times before moving forward. Because most people don’t think of editing as vital to the writing process or take the time to thoroughly edit their work multiple times, they may feel the need to write things right the first time. Worse yet, some people might be so insecure or ignorant of fine English skills that they know how clunky they sound and simply leave it that way.
Don’t think that all intellectual people edit. I am just as guilty of trying to make things sound perfect the first time. However, I have realized that embracing the concept behind shity first drafts requires fully embracing and trusting the editing process. It may seem weird to phrase it is trusting, but I use this word because I perhaps feel inadequate when I write a rough draft that genuinely sounds bad, which is why I found it so humorous when the author spoke of keeping her rough drafts to her eyes only.
Actually, painstakingly writing out a first draft to be perfect the first time dampers your brainstorming and Imagination. As long as you keep her writing, or keep typing if you’re using the microphone, as long as you’re getting your thoughts out, the revision process will transform your jumble of thoughts into something coherent. Straining to make your imperfect human thoughts convey as grammatically and aesthetically perfect as possible is almost asking too much from your brain.
In the next post, I’m going to start a series of tutorials / lessons about editing, starting with the errors I run into the most. I hope my tutorials and lessons will give you more confidence and it your editing skills, and if you’re smart and value time management, you’ll try the shitty first drafts method of writing.